Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Thursday, 21 April 2011

Suggesting that every society have their own ideas of what is authentic and what is not, might strike most people as too obvious to require re-iteration. However the charismatic contemporary ideology which suggests that authenticity and self expression are things to be encouraged by their own right, needs to be re-considered if it is to avoid contradiction with this basic principle.

The case of Treasure Hill artist village is illustrative of how these two suggestions are fundamentally opposed to each other. Treasure Hill is essentially a squatted community on the border of Taipei City and Taipei County. The neighbourhood has been preserved under the Cultural Preservation Act and turned into an Artist Village, where artist's can rent the emptied houses to use as studios or as living space. The complex includes various exhibition spaces and a cafe.

The current state of the neighbourhood has been settled after continuous negotiations involving various municipal departments and the residing activists/artists. Although the project has been motivated with all the best intentions and overall can be considered as a step in the right direction, it is still far from being an ideal template for future plans of urban regeneration.

As is the case with most heritage programs, the Treasure Hill project has not been entirely successful in incorporating the views of those who have used the space for non-heritage related purposes. It is this failure that has caused the neighbourhood to be stripped of it's prior residents and turned into a space which celebrates individual expression and artistic creativity at the expense of housing lower income families.

This is not to say however that Treasure Hill used to be an ideal place to live and should have been left untouched for eternity. In fact the view of the few residents who have kept their houses in the area range from indifference at worst, to approval at best. However a lot more residents have been moved out of the area, presumably further out into Taipei County or even beyond.

It would be tremendously unfair to criticise any particular organisation for the removal of residents out of the area. What has to be criticised however, is the global trend that grants notions like 'self realization' a cult-like status. The idea that if arts, culture and creativity are allowed to flourish, then urban problems of crime and housing will just magically untangle. It is unquestionable, of course that artistic and cultural institutions are extremely valuable to both local and global communities. Nevertheless, the suggestion that we can just add culture to an environment and stir, then proceed to statistically document the improvement of 'general well-being' is absurd.

This very same problem has been noted by London Mayor Boris Johnson's (whom I have to say without restraint I personally detest) Advisor for Arts and Culture, Munira Mirza. Although the Tory party's political motivations are far from being admirable, they are nevertheless making a good point about the instrumentalisation of culture under the previous administration. The problem in fact dates back to much earlier, to the slow but steady erosion of the Labour party's post-war settlement. In terms of housing this has been mostly concentrated around waging a war on council house projects. It is worth remembering after all, that the prioritization of home ownership and the rise of customisation often gloriously portrayed on television hour after hour, has been at the expense of collective, affordable housing.

To conclude, the twin subjects of culture-led urban regeneration and alternative building, need to be urgently re-evaluated. With as much emphasis payed to the residents who inhabit sites of cultural regeneration as the projects themselves. It is clear that the effect of cultural/architectural policy over the urban landscape needs to be studied far more rigorously and understood fully to be able to make healthier projections regarding the role of culture over the contemporary metropolis.

Photo courtesy of Marco Casagrande

Thursday, 21 April 2011 18:23

Snappershot & Tainan Lutai

Cars, cameras and cats

Tainan's Lutai was established two years ago by Sam Wu (吳山姆) and (廖脆麵) as an exhibition space, and a gathering space for lovers of novelty model cars, photography and cats. While intially they were just content that they could provide this space, eventually they opened up a small vintage store inside, with the hope that in the future they could break even.

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Snappershots Troupe (亂拍團) meet one Sunday every month. A group of people with similar interests – photography, exploration and anarchic spaces – meet at Tainan Lutai before gathering in a pre-selected block, with ruins a plenty and pearls waiting to be discovered. Lutai have even created a map (see right) of their favourite ruins in Tainan. In line with their passions the perimeter of the map is metamorphosed into a camera lens.

When was the first time you went ruin exploring? What stimulation do you get from these regular urban excursions? When I asked Gao Pu-chi what he likes so much about exploring these ruins, he said it was a house with no one inside, no one was looking after the house, but it ferments its own flavour, its own character and its own life as a ruin. What keeps him going still now he summed it up as 'danger'. Here are some of the photographic treasures Gao Pu-chi has brought back from these trips.

Cuimian (脆麵), one of the founders of Lutai, told me that above all Snappershot was for fun, the loose group had no strict rules and little responsibilities. They didn't go to shoot the classic tourist places, they searched out the wilder places in a state of decay such as shut down factories, unwanted houses and ruins. Originally there was 7-8 people participating. They would blog their photos and explorations and neventually people began to ask where these places were. Those who enjoyed Snappershot Sunday would come again and again, those who didn't wouldn't come a second time. Cuimian feels that ones outlook on the world can definitely be changed and enrichened by urban exploration. You will begin to search for the stories left over in the ruins, to appreciate the life and death of these constructions. The capturing these places on camera is different every time since everyone's eyes are different.

Images by Gao Pu-chi (高菩祁)

 

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Visual tours of recent architectural history are something that anyone can do by just wandering the streets and alleys… However if you want to try your hand with Snappershot you can contact Lutai and find out the dates of the next Snappershot excursion or alternatively if you are interested in having your own guided tour of the most marvellous of ruins in Tainan you could negotiate your own personal tour. If you can read Chinese you can also check their blog and facebook for updates.

Sam Wu: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0925094096      Gao Pu-chi: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0985091236

 

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 

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